Monday, June 4, 2012

RECIPE - Brazilian Mussel Chowder (Caldo de Sururu)

One of the pleasures of the northeastern Brazilian beach (and there are many) is the sight of a vendor making his or her way along the strand carrying one or two termos bottles, a supply of plastic cups, and perhaps some small containers with hot chili sauce, chopped green onions or chopped cilantro. When you spot one of these coming your way, you know that you're going to be offered a cup of hot soup (caldo in Portuguese). And you know you'll accept. The only question is what kind.

Soup doesn't seem like something you'd want to eat on a topical beach under the blazing sun, but take it on faith, it is. It nourishes without filling, satisfies like a meal does, yet leaves you with room to enjoy a cold beer, caipirinha or soft drink. Surprisingly, it doesn't seem to make you feel any hotter either.

The standard offerings for on-the-beach soups are bean, fish and sururu. If you have read yesterday's post on this blog, you'll know that the sururu is a tiny mussel native to northeast Brazil. It's locally believed to be an aphrodisiac  as well. So if you aren't sure you want your sexual desire to be enhanced, which is after all what aphrodisiacs do, then choose bean or fish. But if the company and the mood are suitable, give sururu a try. At worst, you'll most likely have a delicious cup of soup, at best, one with a spectacular added bonus.

The sururu mussel in found only in tropical waters, primarily in Brazil, but if you want to make this soup at home, you can use any variety of mussel available. Be warned though - there may be no aphrodisiac effect! The recipe also calls for the tropical palm oil known as dendê. There is no acceptable substitute for dendê but you may leave it out entirely if you wish as it's more of a garnish than an ingredient. Outside Brazil dendê can often be found in Latin American or Brazilian grocery stores, or in African grocery stores, where it's called palm oil.
RECIPE - Brazilian Mussel Chowder (Caldo de Sururu)
Serves 10

1 lb. thoroughly washed mussels, meat only, no shells
2 tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
4 cups (1l) water
salt and black pepper to taste
3/4 cup cooked, mashed manioc or potatoes
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
 dendê oil to drizzle
lime wedges
Put the tomatoes, chopped onion and garlic in a blender and liquidize thoroughly. Pour into a large saucepan and cook for 3-4 minutes over medium-high heat.

When the liquid is just at the boiling point, add the mussels, the mashed potatoes or manioc and half the water. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes only, or until the mussels are just firm. Add additional water if needed to reach a rich but pourable soup consistency. Bring just to a boil, then remove from the heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour into small bowls, cups or drinking glasses. Sprinkle chopped cilantro on top and drizzle a bit of dendê oil over, if desired. Serve immediately accompanied by wedges of fresh lime.


  1. Hi James,

    Let me start off by saying that I love your blog, which I've followed for some time (as well as caldo de sururu). My name is Michael Sommers, a Canadian journalist based in Salvador, Bahia, and I'm the author of Moon Brazil and Moon Rio guide books. I'm currently at work on another book about Living in Brazil and would welcome the opportunity to talk to you about your experiences. To find out more, please contact me via Twitter (@MSommersBrazil) or e-mail at

    Look forward to talking to you. Abs,



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